The Long and Winding Road: My Journey to Life

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Henri Nouwen

 In February 2009, about eight months after psychological physical and spiritual collapse due to the effects of PTSD and in the midst of my struggle I began to write about my experiences on this site. My psychologist at the time had suggested that I go public with my struggles using my writing as a means to do so. It was something that I had contemplated for some time. I was a mess and struggling many days to even get to work. I was depressed much of the time, continually on edge, still suffered from nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks and sometimes an angry rage which swept over me when I felt threatened.  I avoided big crowds, was afraid to even go to church and I had a hard time trusting anyone.  In that time I would listen to the Beatle’s song “The Long and Winding Road” which in some ways became a prayer for me.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know

The many ways I’ve tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door


But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here
Lead me to your door

The Long And Winding Road lyrics: Songwriters: Mccartney, Paul; Lennon, John. © SONY BEATLES LTD; SONY/ATV TUNES LLC

So I began to write and find some solace even as I struggled with even the existence of God.  One thing that I found was that there were really very few people, especially ministers secure enough to enter into a healing relationship with me. I felt isolated among my peers especially those from my own church.  Since I have detailed that journey to include a restoration of faith in God in December 2009 about two years after my struggle began I won’t go into great detail in this article.  All I knew is that it seemed that most Priests and other ministers either didn’t know how to walk with me, were afraid to walk with me and were most certainly uncomfortable with a colleague, especially one with my experience dealing with the pain psychological and spiritual effects of PTSD including being from all practical purposes an agnostic.  As one psychotherapist labeled it I was “radioactive.”

Eventually some in the leadership of my former denomination which I had served faithfully as a priest for 14 years asked me to leave the church because I had become “I had changed since coming back from Iraq” and “had become too liberal.”I had known this was coming for some time and had been making preparations for it but the timing of the notice from my former Bishop came as a surprise.

I had begun to voice opinions, especially on social and political issues that rankled some, maybe many in my former church. Since only a few friends from that church remain in contact with me I presume that I rankled more than I did not.  There were times during the early part of 2010 that my wife would ask me after reading something that I had published if I was trying to get thrown out. I wasn’t trying to but I was at the point where I knew that I had to be honest and transparent about my struggle as well as how my beliefs had changed a result of war and of PTSD.  I was diplomatic and tried to say what I had to say without getting too controversial. That began to change in the summer of 2010 and reached its head on September 23rd when I published Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/faith-journey%E2%80%99s-why-i-am-still-a-christian/

I actually did not intend for the article to be too controversial, but looking back I can see how it was interpreted that way. It was for all practical purposes a declaration of independence and a severe criticism of the lack of care that I had felt from the church that I had served for most of my ministerial career. I think that the central part of that article that attracted the attention and wrath of my Bishop was this section”

“This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.”

I ended the article with this gem: “Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives….So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

My goal since faith began to return was to be available to those that feel cut off from God and the Church, to walk with people in the midst of struggle, pain and despair, especially fellow ministers and chaplains.  I don’t have all the answers, in fact I know very few, except that I know that God can use the pain, alienation, struggle and despair that I went through then, as well as the struggles that I still have in the lives of others like me that are willing to walk that lonely path to reconciliation with God and humanity.

As far as my former church and bishop are concerned I still care about them and hope for the best. There are many there that I still call friends and a very few that I can be completely honest and transparent with for they while remaining in the church think much as I do even if they do not agree with me entirely.  Since my departure a number of others have left that church for other reasons, mostly because they wanted to be in communion with a larger number of Anglican Christians.  Others have stayed in the hopes of working toward renewal.  The Bishop who asked me to leave was himself asked to leave when he attempted to secretly take the priests of the military diocese to another communion barely four months later.

It is a long, winding and often lonely road but I have found solace, community and faith upon it. Those that I have met traveling on it have become my brothers and sisters on the journey. And that my friend makes it all worth it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

5 responses to “The Long and Winding Road: My Journey to Life

  1. johncerickson

    While nowhere near as severe as yours, I too have had problems with church leaders and their all-too-common sense of “it’s my way or the highway”. I have frequently jousted (verbally) with regular church-goers over the belief pattern of various sub-sects of Christianity. It is somewhat humourous to me that you, coming from a strong and structured faith, and myself coming from an agnostic family and no regular church attendance through my youth and young adulthood, should have found our paths crossing. That in itself, to me at least, reinforces my belief in a God and a faith of inclusion, not exclusion; as I’m sure it shows you, Padre, that God works in mysterious ways, a role I fulfill to perfection! 😉
    While exploration of faith may oftentimes need to be a solo journey, it is comforting to know I have somebody out there like you, Padre. Thank you, for letting me share the walk, and I hope I can help you a little, as you have helped me so much.
    And that I don’t try your patience TOO much. 😀

  2. Tom Persaud

    In a very small way, I too can relate, finding myself estranged after questioning church authorities who are too weak to face scrutiny. The apostle Paul praised the Bereans for studying God’s word and questioning their leaders, including him. Jesus says he is no respector of titles, but he sees the heart.

    The only point I am concerned about is the homosexual identity. I can embrace a brother struggling with it, but it is a sin like other sins. However, adulterers, for example, don’t boldly boast of their behavior and classify themselves as such. Also, scientifically homosexual relationships are naturally fruitless. No child can naturally come from same sex unions. However, your position and acceptance may put you in a unique position to reach these folks, like Jesus and the prostitute at the well. He accepted her, but not her behavior, and she was enlightened. We all need this. God bless you.

    • padresteve

      Tom
      Thank you for your comments. As far as the comments about gay and lesbian Christians I have met many. Some, especially the men struggle with this and I have had a number said they wish it was not the case. Many of my lesbian Christian friends have been either sexually abused by fathers, brothers or other relatives or trusted family friends and have had marriages where the same happened. Almost all are more conservative both theologically as well as politically than me. It would surprise you to know how many are actually Fundamentalists and embrace a Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist eschatology. Most exhibit far more of the Christian virtues of caring for their neighbors and those less fortunate. With the growing scientific evidence that this may actually be genetic we have to judge each case individually. Someone that is notoriously unfaithful to their partners, and uses they sexuality whatever it may be in a licentious manner I think is committing sin no matter what their orientation. However those that are faithful to each other regardless of orientation I think need to be judged in a different light. That light is the grace of God.
      One argument that you mentioned which is grounded in church history is that no children can be born out of a homosexual union. This is also true for heterosexual couples where one or both partners is unable to bear children or in the case of men produce sperm. In scripture that is seen as a curse and there are many stories of it in the Old Testament. There are even cases where the man divorces his wife because she cannot bear children. We have many heterosexual marriages like this today where no matter what the couple does it is impossible for them to have children. Again using scriptural examples, excepting Jesus’ teaching on divorce that it is permissible for a man to leave his wife if she is barren. So my view, which is a definite minority view is that the faithfulness of a couple to each other is the test that we should be using. After all so many heterosexuals mock the institution of marriage in this country it is almost refreshing to see any couple remain faithful to each other.
      Blessings my friend
      Peace
      Padre Steve+

      • Tom Persaud

        Padre, I found your genetic reference interesting. Just today, I received an email about a chemical called “bisphenol A” that is in plastics and canned foods. It is said to increase the amount of estrogen in our prostate. It reminded me of a story on the history channel about the Roman Empire. Back then, the wealthiest drank wine from lead goblets and out of ignorance they slowly went crazy from lead-poisoning.
        Now, in the grand scheme of things only a small % of heterosexual couples are infertile, otherwise the world population would not be growing so fast. On the other hand, it cannot be disputed that 100% of homosexual couples in monomagous relationships are infertile. As society embraces this lifestyle, I predict that within one generation, species survival will require monogamy to be officially eliminated.
        I saw some similar comments on TV about the stability of homosexual unions vs heterosexuals. I am reminded of two things. 1) It is young and has a point to prove, so it is easy to stay pure 2) In David Wilkerson’s book back in 1998, he talked about satan’s 100 year attack on the family, with divorce rate going from about 10% in the early 1900 to, what is it, about 70% today. The “man” is no longer head of the family. From abuse and other reasons, he now shares that power with his wife as equal partners. No business or country has shared presidency, but our families do, and when the “heads” butt heads, who is to submits to whom? We naturally go our separate ways not realizing or caring that we are destroying the foundations for our children. So, they grow up hurt, confused and with us as poor role models. Some take advantage of their young boys and girls, further ruining them psychologically and spiritually. Our homes are divided. Our home country is divided socially, economically and spiritually. The bible says that “no home divided against itself can stand”. This too is proven.
        Putting it all together, it makes me want to cry for us all. Are we a poisoned generation, desperately searching for “freedom”, running away from our wifes, husbands and children, and straight into dead-end relationships? Sodom and Gomorrah used to read like a fairy tale to me. Now, I fear the disciplining hand of God on our society because I cannot see how we will repent of our ways without some serious widespread suffering. When the Lord took his hand of protection off of Israel, she was exposed to her enemies. We haven’t learned. On 9/11 this mighty nation was dumbfounded by a simple strategy, and I don’t think it was because the enemy was smarter than us. How much longer do we pray, God have mercy, before he says it’s enough already, you wicked generation? When we know the fear of God, we will pull our wifes and children into our arms, and they will submit to us, and we will be gentle with them, as we worship together and work together in peace and unity, with kindness and respect; and the love of God will flow through our lives, our neighborhoods and our nation. Amen.

      • padresteve

        Tom
        Again s always I thank you for your comments. I am content now to just agree to disagree on some things because I respect your position and comments. The state of the family is not good in this country. How much is the result of Satan versus how much is the transition of society from an agrarian society with limited movement and people living a less transitory existence to an urban post industrial society can be debated. Sociological factors are certainly at play and I don’t like to give the Devil more credit than he is due. People can mess things up pretty bad without his help.
        Blessings as always and have a wonderful 4th of July weekend.
        Blessings,
        Steve+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s